How To Become An Ethical Coffee Drinker (From Start To Finish)

As I sit writing this, there is snow coming down outside my window, and the smell of a freshly brewed cup of coffee sitting next to me. It’s peaceful and cozy, and the perfect scene to write this post. What is it exactly about coffee that seems to warm the soul even before taking that first sip? Maybe it’s the feeling of holding a warm cup in my hand on a cold day, or the smell of rich coffee beans that seems to bring me back to the cafés I fell in love with in Italy. Whatever it is, it’s one of the few drinks around the world that universally is agreed upon as a necessary part of daily life, a part of daily food culture.

So why don’t we think about where it comes from more?

Why don’t we think about how it is grown, the people who grow it, and the global industry we support every-time we say “I’ll take a grande cappuccino to go please!”.

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how much coffee do we drink around the world every year?

Here in the United States we spend roughly $18 billion every year on coffee, and Americans alone consume 136 billion cups of coffee annually. These means that the average American drinks roughly 3 cups of coffee per day, and spends on average $1100 annually — on coffee.

Worldwide it is estimated that we drink more than 500 billion cups of coffee annually, with the United States coming in as the second largest importer of coffee beans (90% of which are grown in developing countries), right after the European Union, which accounts for more than 40 percent of all the worlds coffee bean import. 

That’s a lot of coffee, a lot of disposable waste from to-go cups and coffee grinds, and a lot of positive impact that could be made if people began to demand that their coffee be grown, produced, poured, and enjoyed with ethical standards that supported the health of the people growing it, and the planet.

If you are a coffee drinker — which the odds are you are, it’s time we rethink the way we consume our coffee from start to finish. It’s time we use our huge impact as coffee drinkers for good.

Pictured above is the  fair-trade ceramic pour-over coffee maker  and cup by Ten Thousand Villages #partner

Pictured above is the fair-trade ceramic pour-over coffee maker and cup by Ten Thousand Villages #partner


How To Become An Ethical Coffee Drinker (From Start To Finish)

If you love your daily coffee and are ready to become an ethical coffee drinker there are few things that you will want to think about in order to make the whole process as ethical and sustainable as possible. But don’t worry, once you have invested in a few (affordable) items you will be able to enjoy your coffee ethically, and will forget you ever enjoyed it any other way.


it starts with the beans

Of course when it comes to becoming an ethical coffee drinker the most important place to begin is with the beans. Whether you prefer a light, medium, or dark roast it’s important that you begin to familiarize yourself with coffee labels and companies that are supporting small-farmers and laborers who are working to create a more fair, and sustainable system.

Today there are more than 25 million small-scale coffee farms around the world producing more than 80% of the worlds coffee, yet a pilot study by Fairtrade International found that most farmers are not able to make a living wage.

Coffee is a cash crop, highly demanded around the world, and like most cash crops where there is high-demand there is corruption. This is where organizations like Fairtrade International are working to help give small-farmers and laborers a voice in the global coffee trade. By creating a Fairtrade coffee cooperative coffee farmers are able to earn at least the Fairtrade Minimum Price for their coffee, which has been set to cover the costs of production and provide financial security for farmers when market prices drop.

This is important because historically coffee is a crop that experiences a lot of price volatility due to drought, disease, and other factors that affect the supply and demand of coffee, but can be disastrous to small farmers who are barely making ends meet. I was able to see this first hand after living in Guatemala during one of the worst coffee “rusts” in recent history that devastated small farmers, and greatly impacted peoples food security who were already living day-to-day in poverty.

So when choosing a cup of coffee it is important to ask questions of the coffee company you are purchasing from. Check to see if they are Fairtrade Certified, and if not ask what their sourcing methods are. Many companies may not be Fairtrade Certified, but may be still conducting their business ethically and sustainably. While labels can be incredibly helpful i’ts unrealistic to think that every company doing good work will be certified, this is where it’s important as consumers to do our own due diligence.

Some other labels you can look for are:

  • Rainforest Alliance Certified: Focused on environmental and and agricultural training.

  • Direct Trade: Direct trade is less of an organization and more of a method or ideology. It is a type of sourcing where roasters buy direct from farmers, but there is no organization monitoring direct trade, which means it’s up to you to trust the ethics of the distributor.

  • Organic: The USDA organic label certifies that a farm is not using any banned synthetic pesticides and fertilizers. The focus of organic is much more on consumer, producer, and environmental health.

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coffee companies to support

While there are literally hundreds of ethical coffee brands around the world doing really amazing work I wanted to share with you a few of my favorites to get you started.

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making your coffee ethically

Now that we know what to look for when it comes to the actual coffee beans, it is time to move on to making coffee ethically and sustainably. Remember I said we were going to do this from start to finish.


real talk…

That Keurig Machine you are still using — ever thought about how much waste those little pods create?

That favorite coffee cup of yours — ever wondered where it came from? Who made it?

It’s time we take the process of brewing an ethical cup of coffee a step further and start making and enjoying our coffee ethically as well.


let’s make making coffee more ethical

One of my favorite ways to make coffee right now is with the Ceramic Pour Over Coffee Maker by Ten Thousand Villages. This ceramic pour over maker and matching speckled ceramic mug is certified fair trade and ethically made in Vietnam in the village of Bat Trang, which is known for its ceramics. I love how small it is and how it makes it possible for me to make just one cup of coffee. I also was able to find these compostable coffee filters to use when making my pour over drip coffee, which makes composting my grinds after brewing so much easier. You can also find cloth reusable coffee filters that you just rinse and wash.

make your coffee zero waste

Which brings we to the last piece of the ethical coffee making journey, how to dispose of coffee grinds. Coffee grinds are perfect to use and repurpose for making homemade body scrubs, or can easily be composted. I personally use this home composter for our kitchen scraps, and we will just take it to a local composting collection facility in our area every few weeks.

And there you have it! While it may take a few changes to get yourself all setup to become an ethical coffee drinker the end result is so worth it, and once you make a few swaps I promise you really wont miss any of your old ways of making coffee.

Disclaimer: This post contains some affiliate links, which means that if purchased I would receive a small compensation that is at no additional cost to you the consumer. I am also a brand ambassador of Ten Thousand Villages but every opinion is as always my own. Thank you for supporting the brands who support The Well Essentials.